Bedford Athletic 26 Harpenden 17

Bedford Athletic overcame a strong Harpenden team by 26 points to 17. The result saw the home team secure their second win in succession against a top-three team following the victory at home to Rochford Hundred two weeks ago.

In the 3,000th match for the Bedford Athletic first XV, Harpenden started the stronger side, controlling possession until they lost the ball and conceded a penalty. This gave Bedford Athletic the first chance to attack. From a lineout, Andy Ince and then Tom Allwright drove hard into the visiting defence and when the ball was recycled, Casey George was on hand to crash over for a try converted by fly half Felix Mallalieu.

Harpenden were keen to use their bigger, heavier pack whenever possible and soon had two scrums close to the home line. The second of these was repelled and then a penalty for crossing in midfield saw the home side relieve the pressure. They had their own chance for a further attack when Nick Thomas put pressure on sloppy play from a kick from a mark and turned possession over inside the visiting 22.

It was Harpenden who scored next though, full back Tom Sweeney slotting a penalty on 19 minutes. The restart was kicked straight into touch and this gave Harpenden field position and possession and they pressurised the home side’s line. Eventually a close range scrum saw no.8 Jon Ward pick up and dive over for a try that Sweeney converted. Significantly visiting tight head prop George Rolfe left the field injured which evened up the scrum contest somewhat.

Bedford Athletic were having the better of ball in open play and were a continual thorn in the side of the visiting lineout. Disrupted possession meant that Harpenden struggled to threaten and indeed gave away a succession of penalties which Mallalieu kicked in the 25th, 29thand 34th minutes to regain the lead at 16-10. Harpenden went on to dominate the end of the half. Heroic Bedford Athletic defence appeared to keep them at bay but eventually, Harry Sawford-Smith was sin-binned. Harpenden opted for a scrum from the subsequent penalty under the posts but again lost possession and Michael Trigg and then Jacob Wells fly hacked the ball clear to leave the home lead intact at half time.

Much of the third quarter of the game was dominated by the home side, but a combination of strong defence from the visitors, a lack of accuracy and precision from the home side and a tendency to miss overlap opportunities when they arose meant there was no further addition to the score.

As the game began to open up it became clear that one opportunity of bad luck or good fortune was going to change the game and this fell to Harpenden on the hour mark. The ball went to ground, was kicked ahead twice by the visiting side, the ball bounced horribly for the home fullback and visiting replacement Matt Shaw swept past him to pick up and score. Fly-half Oliver Mann’s conversion from under the posts regained the lead for Harpenden at 17-16.

Bedford Athletic continued to sweep forward at every opportunity but continued to be met by stout defence. Therefore when the opportunities presented themselves they kicked for goal from any penalty in range with Mallalieu restoring the lead in the 71st minute. Harpenden immediately counter attacked but once again their attacking lineout was disrupted by their hosts who cleared the danger. Bedford Athletic then ended the game on the attack. Multiple phases hammered away at the visiting line and multiple opportunities to score out wide spurned, before Lewis Sharp picked up and touched down by the posts for a try converted by Mallalieu that secured the win.

Following excellent results against the sides that started the day second and third in the table Bedford Athletic now face the ultimate test as they travel to league leaders Colchester this coming Saturday with a 3pm kick off.